“He’s not your husband yet”

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

If you drink Chinese medicine, at the beginning of the treatment your TCM doctor will usually require you to go see him/her every 3-4 days. The formula of the herbs will be adjusted every few days and while the basic ingredients might stay the same, the doctor might delete some of the herbs while at the same time adding a few new ones.

After I start my treatment for weak spleen, I go to see the doctor quite a few times. One time in late April, she tells me once more what I can eat and what I should avoid eating. When she mentions one dish which she also mentioned the last time, I tell her that hubby (老公, laogong) has cooked this dish for me last weekend.

This story takes place before our wedding, so we weren’t married yet at the time of writing.

Doctor: “Are you already married?”
I: “No, we’ll be married in a few weeks time.”
Doctor: “So actually he’s not your husband yet.
I: “Don’t Chinese people refer to their boyfriend/girlfriend as husband/wife (老公/老婆, laogong/laopo) even though they aren’t married?”
Doctor: “Uh, young people like to refer to their boyfriend/girlfriend as husband/wife way too early. You know, you really shouldn’t call him hubby at this stage of your relationship.
I: “Since we are almost married, it really comes down to the same for me.”
Doctor: “How would you call him in your native language?”
I: “No matter if we’re married or not, we’d call each other treasure (Schatz, 宝贝, baobei). If we talk about the other person after getting married we’d call him/her husband/wife, but this is not a word we’d use if we were talking to him or her directly.
Doctor: “This is much more like my generation would do it.”

Have you ever thought that people in China call each other husband/wife way too early into their relationships?

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10 thoughts on ““He’s not your husband yet”

  1. hahaha well what I have thought is that your doctor likes to touch very personal topics every time you visit her..I saw that in previous posts from you also…
    I would rather worry about that doctor that likes to get into others’ lives instead of how you call your husband…just call him how you both feel comfortable or discuss about it with him.
    The security guys of our compound have always asked me about my husband and asked Tony about his wife, at the beginning I was saying…not husband…boyfriend..but they said..doesnt matter…is just a title…
    To me “boyfriend” sounds like a teenager term, husband is also difficult cause is now new to me…and I used to say partner but people understood… (business partner)..and when I was saying…”life partner” people would say….”your husband?”…so I think husband is the one that simplifies it all in one! 🙂

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    • You’re totally right. She was a bit more personal than what you would expect from a doctor. I didn’t listen to her anyways, but I thought it makes for an interesting blog entry and just for this reason I think that seeing her was worth it. People in China seem to rarely say girlfriend/boyfriend, maybe if you call somebody just that instead of husband/wife it suggests you’re not serious about the relationship?

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      • Can I join the discussion? I might know few answers, first of all they touch that topics because they just like gossips and there’s no privacy – my husband’s grandma knows everyone in the building, security in one of the family flats I lived in keep asking me or my mother in law about me, it’s quite useful because when one of the woman renting a flat didn’t want to pay for few months and changed the locks (after few years they didn’t have contract anymore) my mother in law told it to security guy… week later when whole 25 floors were talking about her she moved out – it’s just how they are, they will ask straight forward, at least older generation 🙂
        about this boyfriend/girlsfriend… at least during time when grandma or ma in law were young there were nothing like dating, parents used to introduce children, see if it can work out then get married – no dating, no proposal, my husband says it’s western thing, besides in Chinese mind girl should be ‘as virgin as possible’, dating too much is being ‘broken shoe’, maybe that’s why term ‘boyfriend/girlsfriend’ is not that popular

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        • Sure, thanks for joining in the discussion! You’re right that some people like gossip. My husband thought that she was a bit too personal though, so I think not each and every Chinese person is comfortable with the gossiping and it also shows that it’s not necessarily something everyone does (because then my husband wouldn’t consider it inaproppriate, I guess).

          You’re right that the older generations often couldn’t choose who they were going to marry. I’m not sure calling each other husband/wife is about the girl having to be “as virgin as possible”. I think it’s more connected to showing commitment.

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          • they like to gossip but they don’t like to be a topic for gossips – of course it’s about ladies, I never met a man, any nation, that likes to gossip 🙂

            Chinese girl cannot say she had many bf/gf – people assume they had some intimate relation and they might be seen as ‘broken shoe’, it’s still very strong – my husband’s sister had a boyfriend and want to live with him, his mother forbid it and say that if she gets dumped guys will see her as ‘used’ and until she gets married she cannot live with him. quite sad, that’s why I assume it’s the reason why saying girlfriend/boyfriend/fiance is not popular

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          • I’m wondering if this is more true in some parts of China than in others. Personally, I’ve never heard of it being that strict anymore (most young people I know have dated other people before marriage). Is this an exception or would you say that many people’s parents share this view?

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          • from friends of my husband and his family I might say most of them, it’s OK for guy to date plenty of girls, but it’s not OK for girl – of course I cannot say it for a whole nation, but our friends were rised in that way too, you lose face if you meet a guy who owned your girl before you. same with age – young girl and old guy it’s OK, girl is getting to her 30s and she should marry as soon as possible to get ‘preserved’ by husband lol I personally find it ridiculous, especially that they don’t come from tiny village, they are either from Hong Kong or Shanghai and still believe in that kind of things 🙂

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  2. I found that very interesting that the younger generation in China does, also that use words like “sweetheart”, “baby”, etc that we never used just 15 years ago, I guess it is caused by watching too many western movies/tvs, 🙂

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    • I agree that it might be connected to western influence or just to the fact that China has opened up and people are freer in their choices of partners, lifestyles, etc, than they were just a decade or two ago. I still think that this doesn’t explain yet why people call each other husband/wife that early into the relationship.

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